TRENTON, N.J.— Merck & Co. has agreed to pay $688 million to settle two long-running lawsuits brought by investors who alleged that the drugmaker delayed releasing bad news on its blockbuster cholesterol drugs to prevent a drop in sales.
Merck, the world’s third biggest drugmaker by revenue, said Thursday that it agreed to the settlement because it is in the best interest of the company and current shareholders. It is taking a charge of nearly a half-billion dollars against 2012 earnings.
The delay in releasing results of a study that was meant to bolster sales of pricey cholesterol pills Zetia and Vytorin triggered criticism by analysts, investors, some scientists, and the media — and ultimately an investigation by Congress.
The maker of Januvia Type 2 diabetes pills and the Gardasil vaccine against sexually transmitted cancers admitted no wrongdoing. The deal must be approved by a federal judge.
‘‘The settlement gets a cloud out of the sky for Merck,’’ said Erik Gordon, an analyst and professor at University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business.
The settlement is among the top 25 securities class action settlements ever, according to Bernstein Litowitz Berger & Grossmann LLP, co-lead counsel in the litigation brought by a number of large pension funds.
Merck, which is based in Whitehouse Station, said in a statement that it is taking a charge of $493 million. The company also restated previously reported financial results, reducing its 2012 fourth-quarter results to 30 cents per share from 46 cents per share, and its 2012 results to $2 per share from $2.16 per share.
Merck shares rose 4 cents to close at $41.19. They have traded in a 52-week range of $36.91 last March to $48 in mid-October.